The Washington Monthly's Who's Who
July/August 2004

Kerry-Edwards campaign edition

by Amy Sullivan

If a presidential candidate's essential political self is reflected in the people he hires, John Kerry sure looks like an old-fashioned Massachusetts liberal. The state's senior senator, Ted Kennedy, exerts a strong gravitational pull: His former chief of staff, Mary Beth Cahill, is Kerry's campaign manager, while Bob Shrum, whose relationship with Kennedy dates back to the 1980 presidential race, orchestrates message and strategy with his partners Tad Devine and Michael Donilon. One of Kerry's closest advisors, his distant cousin and Senate chief of staff David McKean, has known the candidate since the two got their start in Boston politics 30 years ago. David Wade, Kerry's Senate communications director and now campaign spokesman, is at the candidate's side more than anyone. Political veteran Michael Whouley--described by one campaign insider as "Joe Trippi before Joe Trippi was cool"--heads a contingent of behind-the-scenes players from the Boston-based Dewey Square Group.

Kerry has also installed John Sasso, former campaign manager for Michael Dukakis's 1988 bid at the Democratic National Committee as chairman Terry McAuliffe's deputy and likely successor. Fellow Bostonian and Dukakis veteran Jack Corrigan is in charge of the upcoming Democratic National Convention. The candidate's brother, Cam Kerry, remains one of the senator's most trusted advisers.

The presence of so many Kennedy and Dukakis veterans atop the Kerry organization has made it easier for the GOP and some pundits to paint the candidate as a Massachusetts liberal. Yet careful observers have noticed that Kerry has in recent months adopted not just the rhetoric but also the policies of a Clinton-style New Democrat. There's a reason for this, beyond the natural inclination toward the center that emerges in almost any general election campaign, and it has to do with personnel. With the exception of the Shrumians, all the Boston types are involved in the operations side of the campaign, such as organizing the convention and running the field apparatus. Actual message and policy development is in the hands of a whole different group: ex-Clinton White House aides. The Bostonians run the trains, the Clintonites supply the brains.

The unofficial twin pillars of the policy shop are Gene Sperling, former head of the National Economic Council under Clinton, and Bruce Reed, who served Clinton as domestic policy advisor before heading over to the Democratic Leadership Council. Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and former Deputy Secretary Robert Altman are also deeply involved in the crafting of Kerry's economic proposals. Former Clinton State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin plays a similar role in the campaign's foreign policy sphere, pulling together advice from an ad hoc advisory team that includes former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Those are just a few of the outside advisers with Clinton administration ties. But inside, too, the Kerry campaign staff is beginning to look like a Clinton White House reunion. Clinton's former chief speechwriter, Terry Edmonds, is now Kerry's chief speechwriter. Minyon Moore, formerly Clinton's director of political affairs, is now helping to run Kerry's minority outreach program. Another group of senior Kerry staffers is comprised of people who were young and relatively junior White House aides in the final Clinton years. They include the campaign's influential communications director, Stephanie Cutter, policy director Sarah Bianchi, speechwriter Josh Gottheimer, and economic policy director Jason Furman--the latter two having joined the Kerry organization after stints on the presidential campaign of retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark.

The choice of Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as running mate has only hastened Kerry's drift towards the center; as a candidate in the primaries, Edwards relied even more heavily than Kerry did on ex-Clintonites, and many of his top aides have now moved to the Kerry campaign. Miles Lackey, who served on Clinton's National Security Council before becoming Edwards's chief of staff in the Senate and head of the North Carolinian's primary campaign, is now Kerry's deputy campaign manager for policy and speechwriting. Robert Gordon, a former Clinton hand on the National Economic Council and the Office of National Service, used to run the Edwards campaign's policy shop and is now working in Kerry's. Former Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri, who cut her teeth as Clinton's deputy White House press secretary, now serves as Kerry's media director in the battleground state of Ohio.

Of course, in any campaign, real power comes to those with the most access to the candidate. In this sense, the Boston folks still hold sway, but even that's changing. Clintonites Cutter and Gottheimer spend more and more time on the road with Kerry, as do trip director Setti Warren and senior aide David Morehouse, both Clinton White House veterans.

So far, the Boston-Washington divide hasn't become a schism. Says one insider, "It's more a happy division of labor." That's reflected in the rhythms of the D.C. headquarters. Every week, there is a convention planning meeting, followed by a message and policy meeting. Cahill, Sasso, and Corrigan attend the first but tend to drift off when the second begins. (Shrum, tellingly, attends both.)

Other factions of the party are represented as well. Richard Gephardt placed two of his top campaign strategists in the Kerry campaign. His longtime aide and former presidential campaign manager Steve Elmendorf is now Kerry's field director, while his former deputy campaign manager Karen Hancox--yet another veteran of the Clinton White House--is the Kerry campaign's chief executive officer. For institutional knowledge stretching back to Walter Mondale's campaign--and for counsel and discretion in the search for a vice-presidential candidate--Kerry turned to former Mondale campaign chairman Jim Johnson. Johnson and his wife, former Mondale press secretary and current Harvard University professor Maxine Isaacs, are close friends of John and Teresa Kerry and share neighboring vacation homes in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Even the upstart Howard Dean campaign contributed several new staffers to the Kerry operation. Zach Exley, the former whiz who helped Dean revolutionize Internet campaigning, has a similar mandate in the Kerry campaign, and is getting similar results: As of the end of June, Internet donations have led all other forms of fundraising for the campaign, breaking even Dean campaign records and contributing to Kerry's recent two-to-one fundraising edge over Bush.

Part of what keeps all these factions from openly bickering or bucking the campaign's increasingly centrist drift is a widely shared determination to beat President Bush in November. But there's another factor that's hard to exaggerate: Because he held the White House for eight years, Clinton was able to hire, and influence ideologically, virtually an entire generation of Democratic operatives. Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill may be a tough Bostonian and Kennedy loyalist. But she was also the White House director of the office of public liaison--for Bill Clinton.

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